Author Archives: Darrell Wood

Secretariat Monument Groundbreaking Takes Place in Ashland on Feb. 7

Virginia horse racing fans got to celebrate a milestone event Wednesday February 7 as a ceremonial groundbreaking for the magnificent bronze Secretariat “Racing into History’ monument took place in Ashland on the outer edge of the Randolph Macon College campus. The ceremony took place under gorgeous sunny skies, and a large, appreciative crowd was on hand to celebrate Virginia’s greatest athlete — who also happens to be a hometown hero. Groundbreaking speakers included Kate Tweedy (daughter of Secretariat owner Penny Chenery Tweedy), Jocelyn Russell (sculptor of the Secretariat statue), Steve Trivett (Mayor of​ Ashland) and Ann Martin (President of the Ashland Museum). 

A ceremonial groundbreaking took place February 7 in Ashland where the magnificent Secretariat statue will be permanently based.

A formal statue dedication will take place on Saturday March 30 during Secretariat’s birthday celebration in Ashland. The grand event will feature vendors, food trucks, a choir, guest speakers, photo opportunities and a free showing of the movie Secretariat at the Ashland Theatre among other activities. 

The Secretariat statue traveled to a handful of tracks in 2023 including Shenandoah Downs and Colonial Downs in Virginia.

The Town of Ashland accepted the monument the evening prior where it took formal ownership of Big Red. Secretariat will be based on land at the college that has been leased to the Town. The small park — located the intersection of England Street & Railroad Avenue — will formally be named the Reynolds Family Plaza at Randolph Macon College.

Kate Tweedy, who lives in downtown Ashland, proudly talked about her family ties to the great Secretariat.

“It was a wonderful ceremony and a very moving moment for me,” noted Tweedy. “It was the culmination of a long project and a lot of good work. Last night was a crowning achievement.”

“My grandfather began to fulfill his dream to breed and race good horses here in Virginia in 1936 and it took a long time before the greatest horse came around,” she continued. “My mom took over when he became ill and served as the steward of Secretariat. I can only imagine what Granddad and Mom would think about this project. I just know that they would be overwhelmingly proud and thrilled about today, and about what it will look like at the dedication ceremony. 

At the end of her remarks, Tweedy announced that a sandy area underneath the statue will include sand mixed in from track surface materials at all three Triple Crown host tracks — Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont — in addition to sand from The Meadow, Big Red’s birthplace in Doswell. Sculptor Jocelyn Russell then took a pail of sand from The Meadow and spread it in with an existing sand mixture in front of the stage that was used for the ceremonial groundbreaking.    

Sculptor Jocelyn Ruussell (right) — who is based in the state of Washington — and friend Robin Hutton (left) were at the groundbreaking and will return for the March 30 dedication.

Russell, who was emotional in discussing the scope of the sculpting process and the efforts from many that went into it, sent a blanket thank you to everyone involved and promised a longer speech at the dedication. 

Jeannie Welliver, Project Manager for Secretariat’s permanent home base in Ashland, is all smiles at the groundbreaking.

Mayor Trivett referenced what a big event this is for Ashland and that the Town was breaking ground in a special way. “This is not only the first monument of Secretariat in Hanover County, or the first monument of Secretariat in Central Virginia, but the first monument of Secretariat in the state of Virginia! We are extremely proud to continue Ashland’s longstanding ties with Chenery family and on March 30th, this park will be the center of the ‘Center of the Universe’.” 

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Stallion True Valour Moves To Virginia

The following appeared in The Racing Biz

Larry Johnson’s Legacy Farm will for the first time stand his graded stakes winner True Valour (Ire) for 2024, as well as his homebred graded stakes winner Street Magician 

These decisions are designed to take advantage of the lucrative opportunities for Virginia state-sired horses in which not only are they eligible for the State-bred and State-certified stakes and overnight race bonuses offered at Colonial Downs, but also bonuses of 25% for wins at any track in the Midatlantic!

A breeder can foal a Virginia-sired horse anywhere (and be eligible for the foaling state’s bonus program) and still be eligible for these Virginia-focused bonuses without any residency or other requirements.

2024 marks True Valour’s second year at stud.  He is a multiple graded stakes  winner at several distances against the best in the country. In his last start he raced Breeders’ Cup winner Golden Pal to a head bob. (Golden Pal covered 290 mares at $30,000 in 2023).  As his trainer Graham Motion has said, True Valour had more speed than any horse he had ever trained.  At $2,000, True Valour offers significant value. 

Street Magician will resume his successful stallion career that boasts more than $10 million in progeny earnings, an ample number of stakes winners, along with several state-bred champions. He will stand for no fee to approved mares.

Both stallions will participate in the Virginia Thoroughbred Association’s stallion season auction, which takes place February 14. In addition, they will be eligible for viewing at an open house at Legacy Farm scheduled for January 27 and 28 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Virginia 2024 Racing Schedule Includes Seven NSA Sanctioned Jump Meets & Point-to-Points  

Virginia Gold Cup Adds a Grade 1 Stakes to its May 4 Date

Virginia’s horse racing event calendar for 2024 is set and in addition to dates at Colonial Downs (thoroughbred) and Shenandoah Downs (harness), seven spring Point-to-Point (PTP) meets along with seven National Steeplechase Association (NSA) sanctioned meets –- three in spring and four in fall — fill in the calendar. 

The Rappahannock PTP kicks the season off March 2 at The Hill in Boston with a rain date of the following Saturday, March 9.  Additional meets in March include Warrenton Hunt PTP March 16 at the Airlie Race Course, the Piedmont Fox Hounds PTP March 23 at the Salem Course in Upperville and the Blue Ridge Hunt PTP March 30 at the Woodley Farm in Berryville. Heading into April, the Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point kicks the month off on the 6th at the Ben Venue Farm in Ben Venue, VA. followed by a pair of Sunday gatherings — the Loudoun Hunt PTP April 21 at Morven Park in Leesburg and the Middleburg Hunt PTP April 28 at Glenwood Park. 

Action from a past early March Rappahannock Hunt meet. Photo courtesy of Douglas Lees.

The Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) will again offer a popular Starter Rewards initiative called “Point-to-Points Pay”. The program began in 2019 and has helped to enhance participation in the early spring race meets. The concept is straightforward— every time a Virginia-owned or Virginia-trained horse makes a start in any PTP race, the owner will receive a $200 starter reward. The bonus is designed to increase steeplechase participation at all levels, from owner-rider divisions to open hurdle and timber divisions.

Growth of this program is important and in 2024, two of the PTP meets will raise their profiles dramatically. The Old Dominion Hounds card will host a trio of NSA sanctioned races for the second year in a row and for the first time ever, the Blue Ridge Hunt will host a pair of NSA sanctioned events. 

This year’s Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point will have NSA sanctioned races as part of its racing menu. Douglas Lees photo.

“The Point-to-Point season is critical and gets horses ready for sanctioned races,” said NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo. “It provides a feeding ground and gives trainers a good gauge on what they’ve got. The NSA is engaged with the Point-to- Points more than ever. It is a very exciting step to be able to combine sanctioned races into a non-sanctioned race card. That aspect provides a nice synergy between the Point-to-Points and the NSA.”

“Spring in Virginia is heralded for many by the beginning of the steeplechase season,” said NSA President, Dr. Al Griffin. “From the Point-to-Points that begin in March through the National Steeplechase Association meets in April and May, jump racing provides an exciting and varied experience to gather with family and friends for a great day at the races.”

A trio of those NSA spring jump meets will be contested on three consecutive Saturdays starting with the Middleburg Spring Races at Glenwood Park April 20 followed by the Foxfield Spring Races in Charlottesville April 27 and the Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow in The Plains –- that features pari-mutuel wagering — on Kentucky Derby Day, May 4.  Griffin spoke of unique aspects each of the three provide.

Horses approach the final turn at Glenwood Park in Middleburg (VEA photo).

“In addition to great racing, Middleburg’s Spring Race Meet is known for its beautiful setting and spectacular tailgates. The Foxfield Races is where racing enthusiasts and college students come together to celebrate spring at a renewed and greatly updated Foxfield Racecourse. Foxfield also contributes significantly to the local community in the form of its financial support of local charities, including Habitat for Humanity.  The Gold Cup is known for its high quality racing and wide open race course and will be hosting a Grade One Hurdle Race this year for the first time, one of only two grade one steeplechase races in America run in the spring season.” 

Heading into warmer weather months, Colonial Downs will continue its successful weekly steeplechase program by offering two jump races every Friday during their summer thoroughbred meet — with a potential twist. Discussions are taking place about making the races part of Colonial’s betting card instead of presenting them before that day’s pari-mutuel program begins — and live streamed only to NSA online viewers. If that plan moves forward, the jump pair would be treated like Colonial’s flat races – simulcast to a broader audience that wagers an average of $2 million-plus per program. In all, 18 sanctioned steeplechase races will offered at the New Kent facility.

“Having our races there each week has been impactful to say the least,” said Gallo. “It has made a significant difference to our summer racing schedule. It’s remarkable actually. To be part of the pari-mutuel program this year would just add another element. Having two races per week over the 9-week meet enables us to focus on maiden and ratings races, in addition to two nice filly stakes races (Life’s Illusion & Randolph D. Rouse) which don’t conflict with Saratoga. This provides a tremendous opportunity for horsemen with jump racing at Saratoga on Wednesdays and at Colonial on Fridays. The schedule allows jockeys and trainers to travel back and forth easily.”

Virginia Gold Cup action involves fancy hats in addition to NSA sanctioned steeplechase races.

The state of steeplechase racing seems to be on the rise according to Gallo. “Coming out of pandemic, it’s been a long road back but it’s been a remarkable journey – from competing with no fans in 2020 to where we are now.  We have a solid horse population and have new owners coming into the sport. From an infrastructure standpoint, Foxfield revamped their racecourse and they, along with the Gold Cup, added an irrigation system to their course.  Foxfield will inherit races from Charlotte, North Carolina and be able to present an upgraded card in 2024 which includes a $75,000 novice stakes renamed in honor of D.G. Van Clief. Middleburg Spring Races plays host to the Temple Gwathmey Stakes and the Gold Cup has the Semmes and Gold Cup Stakes itself. That is an impressive spring stakes lineup between the three Virginia tracks.”

Foxfield’s Van Clief Stakes, which had been known as the Queen’s Cup, is the middle leg of a three-part series with the Carolina Cup and a novice stakes at Iroquois.    

Absent from the steeplechase scene this spring is Will O’Keefe, who passed away December 18. Will was a longtime race caller for race meets in Virginia and throughout the steeplechase circuit nationally who also wrote regularly for “In and Around Horse Country. “Will is a longtime Virginia horseman,” said Griffin. “Will’s voice was easily recognizable to all in racing and his enthusiastic calls defined the thrill of racing in the countryside for over 40 years.”

“It’s quite a loss,” added Gallo. “He wasn’t just a race caller. He worked the PTPs and created the Central Entry Office (clearinghouse for all events) which will continue to be used. I’ve known and worked with Will for 45 years. He is a special kind of guy. He put his heart and soul into racing. Will called in Maryland too so his presence went beyond Virginia. He had a big focus on Point to Points.”

Secretariat “Racing Into History” Monument Groundbreaking & Dedication Dates Set

The Secretariat For Virginia Committee (SECVA) of the Ashland Museum has announced the dates for the groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies for the “Secretariat Racing Into History” monument.  

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Reynolds Family Plaza at Randolph-Macon College, where the magnificent bronze will be permanently installed, will take place on Wednesday February 7 at the site at 11:00 am. The event is free and open to the public.   

The Secretariat Monument “Racing Into History” will be installed and ready for dedication by March 30.  Secretariat was born on that date in 1970 at Meadow Stable, which was founded by Christopher Chenery, formerly of Ashland.  The town will celebrate the dedication and birthday with a full day of festivities. More details will be announced soon.

“Secretariat Racing Into History,” by renowned sculptor Jocelyn Russell, is the first and only monument of the legendary Triple Crown champion in Virginia.  At 21 feet long and 11.5 feet tall, it is also the largest one in existence, weighing in at 3,500 pounds. The monument garnered national publicity last summer during its 5,000-mile tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown.

SECVA, the Ashland Museum, and many supporters, including Ashlanders, have raised the money to purchase the monument. Ownership will be officially conveyed to the town at a ceremony at the Town Council meeting on February 6.  

Virginia Breeders Share in $1,850,000 in Bonus Award Monies in 2023 

Virginia’s breeders benefitted from a continued business boom in 2023 courtesy of Historical Horse Racing (HHR) revenues at seven Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums located around the state and the continued renaissance of the Colonial Downs thoroughbred meet in New Kent which is expected to grow to 40 days in 2025.

Virginia breeder’s bonus monies distributed in 2023 nearly doubled that of levels from just two years ago — $1,850,000 versus $975,000 in 2021. Up until the 2022 campaign, bonus money had been paid for the win position only from races anywhere in North America. In the last two years (and moving forward) the bonus program was extended to reward not just wins, but seconds and third place finishes in any race including NSA sanctioned races. As a result, 65 different breeders earned awards in 2023 that came from 409 top-three finishes. In all, Virginia-bred horses collected 139 wins, 130 second place finishes and 138 thirds. 

As Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums continue to expand in the Commonwealth and more HHR terminals are placed in operation, signs point to the Breeder’s Fund incentive program potentially growing even more in coming years. A new Rosie’s resort hotel called The Rose is expected to open in mid-2024. The Northern Virginia venue will feature up to 1,200 HHR machines and replace the current Rosie’s in that market which only has 150 terminals.   


Determined Kingdom takes the inside route to win the 2023 Meadow Stable Stakes at Colonial Downs (Coady Photography)

Topping the 2023 Breeders bonus leader board was Audley Farm Equine with $220,246 — from 31 individual awards. The uptick in award monies distributed has been dramatic. In 2021, the top bonus earning breeder, Morgan’s Ford Farm, received $126,694. Audley’s combined bonus checks that year amounted to $69,353. In this new era, Audley saw eight different horses they bred reach the winners circle in 2023 including Determined Kingdom, who had stakes scores in the Meadow Stable and Punch Line, Galilei, who crossed first in the Brookmeade Stakes, and Low Mileage, who was best in the Jamestown Stakes. All four victories took place at Colonial Downs and each produced a maximum $25,000 bonus return. In total, Audley recorded 11 wins, 12 seconds and 8 third place finishes.  

Alex Joon prevails in the 2023 Edward P. Evans Stakes (Coady Photography)

Runner-up by monies earned was Morgan’s Ford Farm with $133,566. Their 36 awards came from 8 wins, 16 second place finishes and 12 thirds. Alex Joon, with $326,809 in career purse earnings, captured the Edward P. Evans Stakes and cemented a $25,000 award. The 7​-year-old Flatter gelding cashed in from a trio of other bonus-earning performances at Keeneland, Oaklawn and Fair Grounds. Surya, who Morgan’s Ford also owns, did not reach the winners circle in 2023 but had five award-earning trips including a second and third in allowance company at Colonial. Morgan’s Ford also earned parts of 34 other awards in which they were co-breeders, which brought their total combined award tally to $251,000. 

Gigante was best in the Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes at Colonial Downs on “Festival of Racing” Day (Coady Photography)

Ann Mudge Backer and Smitten Farm took third place among bonus earners with $121,923. Among their 15 awards were six wins – four from Secretariat Stakes (G2) winner Gigante — to complement four runner-up finishes and a handful of thirds. Gigante’s other stakes wins were in the Woodchopper (Fair Grounds), Commonwealth Turf (Churchill) and Caesars Handicap (Horseshoe Indiana). The Backer/Smitten combo also connected with Just North at Laurel and Baytown Beaver at Mountaineer.      

Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin III herself scored five rewards, but all were for impressive 6-year-old Tapiture gelding Repo Rocks who won four stakes races in 2023. A career earner of $803,371, Repo Rocks prevailed in the G3 Westchester Stakes at Belmont, the Stymie and Toboggan Stakes at Aqueduct and the Blitzen Stakes at Parx. In all, Repo Rocks provided $108,886 in bonus monies. Horses bred by the Iselin family amassed $159,297 in awards.       

Repo Rocks wins the Toboggan Stakes at Aqueduct, one of four his stakes triumphs in 2023.

Daybreak Stables’ scored $96,454 in awards, much coming from two horses that had stellar campaigns — Mystic Seaport and Naked and Famous. The former had six wins, including five claiming race victories in a row between August 31 and December 10. The five-pack included wins at Colonial and Delaware Park and three at Laurel. The 4-year-old daughter of Midshipman earned four other awards for second and third place finishes. The latter, a 6-year-old Upstart gelding, bagged four triumphs that included an allowance score at Colonial and three claiming wins at Aqueduct. Overall, Daybreak had 13 wins, one runner-up and six thirds. 

Breeder Sam English II, whose year mirrored Iselin’s, received three winning bonus checks courtesy of Chambeau’s stakes wins in the Camptown and Tyson Gilpin/Glen Petty at Colonial, and an allowance win — also at Colonial — sandwiched between the two. In all, English’s late blooming 7-year-old mare captured four bonuses in New Kent — of five he received which totaled $85,917.     

Note that single bonuses in the incentive program are capped at $25,000. In 2023, there were 14 bonuses awarded at that maximum level. The Virginia Breeder’s Fund is generated by a percent of every dollar wagered in Virginia via HHR, OTB and ADW betting. The Virginia Racing Commission approves how the Fund monies can be used and distributed.     

19 Standardbred Stallions Scheduled to Stand in Virginia for 2024 Breeding Season  

(WOODSTOCK, VA —- 1/11/2024) —- The Virginia Harness Horse Association (VHHA), which introduced a lucrative Sired Stakes program in 2022, announced that 19 stallions will be standing in the state for the 2024 breeding season. Twelve stallions stood in the Commonwealth two years ago and prior to that, just four stood including Gregory Pecs who passed away in December. 

Twelve trotting stallions and seven pacing stallions, including three new ones, will stand at farms across the state this year –- east, west, north and south.   

Dr. Butch will stand in Virginia for the second straight season. He will be based in the northern part of the state this year in Amissville.

Among the 2024 class is Doctor Butch, a winner of $1.6 million in purse earnings who will stand in Virginia for the second straight year. His career triumphs include wins in the New York Sire Stakes Final at age 2 and in the Art Rooney Pace at age 3. He will be based in Northern Virginia, at Equine Reproduction Concepts in Amissville.  

In the Central Virginia region, eight different stallions will stand at various farms. Trotter Dusty Winner, based at Charlie Dunavant’s Woodhill Farm in Victoria, has sired 34 starters that have earned a combined $2.1 million. Pacer Calgary Seelster, who earned $357,616 with a mark of 1:50 3/5, will stand at the Elam Stoltzfus Farm in Charlotte Courthouse. Trotter Armed Dangerously, winner of the Fall Harvest Stakes at Yonkers as a freshman, will stand at Joe Coblentz’s Farm in Nathalie. Other Nathalie based stallions include trotters Secular and Snow King who will be at respective Yoder Farms in that area. Trotting stallion Crime Fighter, by Chapter Seven, rerturns and will will stand at the Ivan Byler Farm in Halifax. Two new stallions –- trotters Climb Higher and Reverse Smith — will be based at the Amos Stoltzfus Farm in Dillwyn and at Gold Hill Acres in New Canton. They are by Muscle Hill and Donato Hanover respectively.      

Reverse Smith is one of three new stallions standing in the Commonwealth for 2024.

Another seven stallions will stand in the Southwest portion of the state including pacers Artzina and Jeneral Patton — at Michael Viars’ Farm in Pilgrim Knob. The former bankrolled $780,063 during an impressive racing career and in stud, has sired 54 starters that have earned $3.6 million. The latter bankrolled $470,404 from 29 wins and stands his second season in 2024. Trotter Love Hunter, who boasts a 1:55 1/5 best, will be based at the Cedar Bluff Farm in Jonesville. Trotter Winning Fireworks, a proven sire of 47 starters that have earned over $2 million, will stand at Tracy Bradshaw’s TNT Racing Stable in Bland. The Black Diamond Farms in Hurley will host a pair of pacers — Mr. Julian and Many Moons. The former bankrolled $318,607 and recorded a mark of 1:48 4/5 while the latter is a 5-year-old son of Sweet Lou who will stand for his first season. Wishbone, a son of Gregory Pecs, will stand at Adam Akers’ Round Mountain Stables in Bastian.    

Love Hunter is one of seven stallions that will stand in the southwest part of the state.

Virginia’s Eastern Shore is represented this year too with trotting stallion Strength of Victory, a Muscles Yankee trotter out of Rosecroft Survivor. He will stand at the Cliff White Farm in Bloxum.               

The Sired Stakes program will offer bonus payments for foals that meet qualifying times and dates as outlined in the rules at Both the stallion owner and breeder will receive $1,500, and if the mare and foal remain in Virginia for the entire foaling year, the mare owner will receive an additional $1,500. 

Sired Stake races will be run based on age, sex and gait as two and three-year-olds. Elimination races will feature a $6,000 purse and finals will go for $60,000. Sired foals are also eligible to compete in the Breeder’s Fund races during the same years, which feature $8,000 elims and $80,000 finals.

More details, contact information and pricing for each is available at or by calling Debbie Warnick at 443-463-0917. The Sired Stakes initiative will complement other VHHA incentive programs like Breeder’s Fund Races and the Certified Residency program. 

Shenandoah Downs will conduct a 14-day spring meet in Woodstock from April 6 – May 19..

The 2024 racing schedule at Shenandoah Downs will feature a pair of 7-week meets. The spring session will run from April 6 – May 19 and the fall meet, pending Virginia Racing Commission approval, will run from September 14 – October 27. Race days are Saturday and Sunday afternoons with a 1:05 PM post. Racing applications will be available at beginning February 2. 

Leif Dickinson Named Director Of Track Operations At Colonial Downs

Dickinson will be instrumental in the daily management of the course in New Kent, Virginia, while working closely with Track Superintendents on development and maintenance at other CDI-owned racetracks.

Churchill Downs Incorporated (“CDI” or the “Company”) announced Tuesday that Leif Dickinson has been named Director of Track Operations at Colonial Downs Racetrack. In this role, Dickinson will be instrumental in the daily management of the course in New Kent, Virginia, while working closely with Track Superintendents on development and maintenance at other CDI-owned racetracks including the Company’s flagship Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I’m very excited to join the team at Colonial Downs and contributing to that tradition of exceptional track surfaces and the opportunity to develop agronomic programs for other CDI tracks excites me,” said Dickinson. “I consider horse racing to be the most challenging turf management job in the world, but it is one that I take very seriously. I look forward to continuing to promote a safe racing experience and ensuring CDI tracks are the best in the world.”

Dickinson brings over 30 years of experience in Agronomy and Turf Science Management with deep expertise in the care, maintenance and renovation of horse track fields and grounds and is well-regarded as a subject matter expert in Soil Science, Turfgrass Management, Horticulture, Grounds Development, Irrigation & Drainage, Pest Management, Pesticides, Edaphology, Turf Nutrition and Resource Management. He is a member of HISA’s Track Surface Advisory Committee. Prior to joining CDI, Dickinson served as a director or consultant for a number of high profile race courses across the country including Gulfstream Park, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and Santa Anita Park. He holds an Associate of Science Degree in Horticulture from Mount San Antonio College and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture from the University of Maine.

“We are pleased to welcome world-renowned turf expert Leif Dickinson to the team,” said Bill Mudd, President and COO of CDI. “This year, Colonial Downs held 196 turf races during a 27-day meet and we will rely heavily on Leif’s experience to manage the course as we expand to over 40 days of racing in 2025. With his expertise in Bermuda grass, we look forward to his oversight at Fair Grounds Racecourse and Ellis Park as well as his close involvement with the team at Churchill Downs Racetrack as they prepare the course in the lead up to the 150th Kentucky Derby week and beyond.”

73 Horse Racing Events Scheduled in 2024; Here’s the Lineup

The 2024 horse racing season in Virginia is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever! Daylight hours are getting more abundant little by little so it’s time to think spring — and beyond. This year, there will be 73 racing performances — 32 days of harness racing, 27 days of thoroughbred racing, 7 NSA sanctioned steeplechase meets and 7 Point-to-Point meets. It’s time to mark your calendars!

Saturday March 2 – Rappahannock Hunt Point-to-Point at The Hill in Boston, VA (rain date is Saturday March 9).

Saturday March 16 – Warrenton Hunt Point-to-Point at the Airlie Race Course in Warrenton. 

Saturday March 23 – Piedmont Fox Hounds Point-to-Point at the Salem Course in Upperville.   

Gostisbehere navigates a jump in the Old Dominion Point-to-Point Maiden Hurdle (Douglas Lees)

Saturday March 30 – Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point at the Woodley Farm in Berryville. 

Saturday April 6 – Shenandoah Downs Spring Harness Racing Season in Woodstock kicks off. The 7-week “Harness the Mountain Magic” meet continues every Saturday & Sunday at 1:05 PM thru May 19.

Saturday April 6 – Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point at the Ben Venue Farm in Ben Venue, VA. They will have 5 sanctioned steeplechase races on the card! 

Saturday April 20 – Middleburg Spring Races at Glenwood Park. A first rite of spring, this is Virginia’s the oldest steeplechase event, and the first of three sanctioned spring jump meets.

Sunday April 21 – Loudoun Hunt Point-to-Point at Morven Park in Leesburg. 

Saturday April 27 – Foxfield Spring Races in Charlottesville. Steeplechase races have taken place here since 1977 and in 2024, look for an enhanced race/purse schedule.    

Tailgating at the Middleburg Spring Races is a tradition.

Sunday April 28 – Middleburg Hunt Point-to-Point at Glenwood Park in Middleburg. This is the final PTP of the spring. 

Saturday May 4 – Virginia Gold Cup Races at Great Meadow in The Plains. Wager the prestigious Gold Cup, David Semmes Memorial and other steeplechase races all afternoon followed by the Kentucky Derby simulcast. 

Saturday May 4 – Kentucky Derby Day festivities at Shenandoah Downs. Enjoy live harness action followed by the Kentucky Derby simulcast on the infield jumbotron.

Saturday May 4 – Kentucky Derby Simulcast. Wager the “Run for the Roses” at any Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, VA-Horseplay OTB or online at,, and

Medina Spirit (inside) in deep stretch en route to a Kentucky Derby victory in 2021. Coady Photography.

Saturday May 18 – Preakness Day festivities at Shenandoah Downs. Enjoy live harness action followed by the Preakness simulcast on the infield jumbotron. 

Saturday May 18 – Preakness Day Simulcast. Wager the Triple Crown’s 2nd leg at any Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, VA-Horseplay OTB or online at,, and 

Saturday June 8 – Belmont Day Simulcast. Wager the Triple Crown’s final leg at any Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, VA-Horseplay OTB or online at,, and 

Thursday July 11 – Colonial Downs Thoroughbred Racing Season in New Kent kicks off! The 9-week season will continue every Thursday, Friday & Saturday thru September 7.

Colonial Downs will begin its summer thoroughbred season on July 11th.

Saturday August 10 – Colonial Downs’ “Festival of Racing” Day, featuring the Grade 1 Arlington Million, Grade 2 Beverly D and Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes.

Wednesday August 28 – Shenandoah County Fair Harness Race Meet in Woodstock kicks off at 12 Noon and continues daily thru Saturday August 31.

Saturday September 7 – Virginia Derby Day at Colonial Downs featuring racing’s top 3-year-old turf horses and the sport’s top trainers and jockeys. 

Saturday September 14 – Shenandoah Downs Fall Harness Racing Season in Woodstock kicks off. The 7-week “Harness the Mountain Magic” meet continues every Saturday & Sunday at 1:05 PM thru October 27.

Shenandoah Downs will conduct a 14-day fall harness meet in Woodstock.

Sunday October 6 – Foxfield Fall Races in Charlottesville – a family-themed day of steeplechase racing.   

Saturday October 12 – Middleburg Fall Races at Glenwood Park in Middleburg.

Saturday October 26 – International Gold Cup Races at Great Meadow in The Plains.

Sunday October 27 – Virginia Breeder’s Harness Championships at Shenandoah Downs in Woodstock featuring 8 title matches and over $650,000 in purse money on the line.

Saturday November 2 – Montpelier Hunt Races at James Madison’s homestead in Montpelier Station. This is the final NSA sanctioned steeplechase meet of the year.     

Maryland Racetrack Operating Authority Report Released

The following appeared in The Racing Biz January 5th and was written by Frank Vespe.

A pair of reports commissioned by the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority released Jan. 5 outline a very different future for Maryland racing. How precisely to get to that future? That’s a bit less clear.

That future portends a consolidation of racing operations at a rebuilt Pimlico Race Course, the creation of a training center to accommodate additional horses, and the replacement of the current private, for-profit ownership structure with a state-owned, non-profit-managed arrangement.

Preakness Day at Pimlico. During the Baltimore track’s complete renovation, the Preakness will be held at Laurel.

Governor Wes Moore announced Friday morning that the state of Maryland and the Stronach Group, the parent company of the Maryland Jockey Club, had “reached the framework of an agreement in principle” to implement the projects, he said in a statement. Under the agreement, the Stronach Group would turn Pimlico over to the state, retain the right to develop the Laurel property, and maintain ownership of the Preakness itself, while leasing the rights to it to the new track operators.

The cost of leasing the Preakness is unknown. Control of day-to-day racing would transfer as of January 1, 2025.

The two reports were completed by a consultant team led by Crossroads Consulting and Populous. They were mandated by the legislation that created the Authority during the Maryland General Assembly’s 2023 session and synthesized by the Authority into a single report.

The facilities report outlines two potential Pimlico options and identifies three possible training center sites. The price tag for the new Maryland racing facilities is projected to reach approximately $400 million, with the Pimlico renovations projected to cost between $275 million and $285 million.

The rebuilding of Pimlico is expected to take three years, and during that time, the Preakness would be run at Laurel Park.

The facilities report outlines two options for Pimlico. Both would involve demolishing virtually every structure on the grounds and rebuilding from scratch. While one option would keep the racetrack in its current configuration, the other, which the report says “is the most efficient use of the available land while also resolving some of the key challenges of the Option 1 concept,” envisions rotating the track to allow for the creation of a grand entrance to the facility, better arrangement of structures on the grounds, and slightly more developable land.

The new Pimlico would be able to host approximately 71,000 people for the Preakness, including 16,200 in its new, 137,000 square foot clubhouse. The grounds would also house 560 stalls and two tracks, a turf course and a dirt course, with the latter to be “synthetic ready,” that is, ready to be quickly converted to a synthetic surface in the future.

Also on the grounds will be both surface parking and a parking garage, a hotel, and a veterinary center.

The report flags three potential training centers as its top choices. Those are the old Bowie Race Course site, the Rooney family’s Shamrock Farm in Woodbine, and Mitchell Farm Training Center in Aberdeen. All, according to the report, are within an hour of Pimlico and have a minimum of 85 acres available, which would allow stabling for 600+ horses.

While the future of Pimlico and the Preakness have largely taken center stage in the public mind, in some ways the operating model may be a more critical component.

“It is possible to have a financially viable operating model in Maryland, but thoughtful and strategic changes are needed,” the Crossroads-led report notes. “Revenues from all-sources wagering may not be adequate to enable a for-profit operator to run a sufficient number of race days and also make the necessary capital improvements.”

What then?

“Implementing a public ownership structure for the tracks which recognizes a substantial need for a public investment with the involvement of industry participants to leverage otherwise strong economic foundations is recommended for consideration,” the report suggests. “Further, it is recommended that consideration be given to leasing the tracks to a not-for-profit corporation similar to NYRA.”

“The Stronach Group and the Maryland Jockey Club remain deeply committed to reinvigorating Thoroughbred racing in Maryland, and this framework agreement represents an important first step in that process,” Stronach Group chairwoman Belinda Stronach said in a statement.

The report calls – perhaps quixotically – for the new operator to maintain a racing schedule of between 140 and 165 days, “emulate the strategies for successful boutique meets at other tracks,” increase purses 35% to draw even with Virginia, increase the number of starts by 15% to bring average field size to 8.5 runners per race, and increase breeding incentive funds by 15-20%.

The additional funding will almost certainly require increased subsidies from the state, and the report flags historical horse racing machines – essentially slot machines with the results based on earlier horse races – as one way to boost industry funding.

The plans are subject to approval by the General Assembly. The 2024 session kicks off January 10 and concludes April 8.

Longtime Virginia Steeplechase Race Caller Will O’Keefe Passes Away

The Virginia steeplechase community lost a pillar on December 18 as Will O’Keefe, an iconic race caller and chairman of the Virginia Fall Races, passed away at the age of 76. Condolences go out to Will’s family and friends.

The following story appeared in

The Virginia Fall Race Committee announced Dec. 20 the death of Will O’Keefe, a Virginia Steeplechase Hall of Fame inductee, horseman, fox hunter, and race announcer. O’Keefe, 76, was race director for the Virginia Fall races and is the son of Dr. Frank O’Keefe, who bred 1966 Kentucky Derby winner Kauai King.

“Will assumed his role of race director for the Virginia Fall Races just 10 years ago and he did it all,” the committee said in a statement. “He arrived early, stayed late, worked out the stall assignments, put up the stall cards, conducted the officials’ meeting, called for the vet check, and welcomed owners, trainers, grooms, and spectators to Glenwood Park for a day of racing.

“Then he took his seat behind the microphone. He called the races with a voice that delivered clarity, drama, accuracy, and knowledge, stride for stride. He always said he had the best seat in the house at every race meet and indeed he did. He may have had the best seat, but the Virginia Fall Race Committee certainly had a one-of-a-kind leader and a friend to all.”

O’Keefe announced his last race at Glenwood Park, at his race meet, a timber race, in October 2022.

In an article about O’Keefe written in 2020 by Betsy Burke Parker, O’Keefe estimated he would handle the race calling for around 20 meets that year and figured during his 41 years of race calling had provided the color to more than 5,000 races.

O’Keefe got into race calling when he was the race secretary for the Casanova Hunt Point-to-Point in the late 1970s. When announcer Barney Brittle stepped down in 1978, O’Keefe had to find a replacement and went to his father to handle the calls by promising he would be at his side to help identify horses and provide any details as the race unfolded.

“I realized after that first year, it’d be just as easy to do it myself,” O’Keefe told Parker. He took the microphone full-time in 1980.

O’Keefe said that having grown up going to racetracks along the East Coast with his father, he learned the finer points of a solid race call.

O’Keefe’s race calling perch at Glenwood Park for the Middleburg Fall Races

“There’s a certain rhythm to it,” he told Parker. “I probably have a Southern accent when I talk, but I don’t think I do when I announce. You learn to project your voice.”

O’Keefe was recognized with numerous honors for his contributions to the sport. He was named Point-to-Point Man of the Year (has also served as Virginia Point-to-Point Association secretary, and Virginia Steeplechase Association secretary and president) in 1986; won the VSA’s Francis Thornton Green award in 1990; was inducted in the Virginia Steeplechase Hall of Fame in 2007; was recognized with the Yves Henry Lifetime Achievement Award and was named Loudoun Preservation Society’s preservationist of the year in 2011; and, received the Monk Noland Award for service to the racing community by the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association and National Steeplechase Association in 2019.

In 1980, O’Keefe also owned and trained the Virginia Point-to-Point Association champion steeplechase mare Royal Greed.

Instead of flowers, the family would like donations to be made in O’Keefe’s name to the Virginia Fall Races, PO Box 2, Middleburg, Va., 20118. A celebration of life in his honor and memory will be held in the spring.